Monday, August 27, 2007

Change of weather. Natal is moving out of it's winter period and it's starting to feel like swealtering summer again. There are only two seasons in Natal: 1) rain and sun 2) just sun. Of course, "winter" stretches the definition of the former. Basically, it means you might not wear shorts every day of the week, but now the baking sun is back you probably will. Unfortunately, the changing weather sometimes brings bad health. A lot of students are spluttering and coughing their way through the semester and today Nelson has a small fever.

Grandpa Barlow. I forgot to mention this last week, but Grandpa Barlow - Rachel's Dad's Dad - has been unwell and in hospital. We visited him there last weekend where he had lost weight and was quite out of it. So, he and the family are in our prayers.

Stop Press: Male student opts for vegetarianism! Vegetarianism in Brazil is a fringe cult reserved for lunatics. That's how the majority view it, anyway. So you can imagine how surprised we all were in my Saturday English class when, during a discussion about McDonalds, a young lad chirps up that he is going to decline all burgers as he about to start being a vegetarian for ethical reasons. "I tried last Sunday but failed so I'm starting again", he points out. "Sometimes I think I get on with animals better than people". For a red-blooded young north eastern Brazilian male this revelation is on a par with Billy Elliot telling his coal mining Dad that he wants to be a dancer not a boxer. The rest of the class were largely incredulous and we will monitor our young friend's progress in the next lesson.

I've seen eleven goals netted in my last two visits to watch my local team, America RN. Sadly, they only scored two of them. Four of us went to watch America play again yesterday. They were playing Santos, Pele's former team. Santos' no.10 shirt was illustriously worn by Pele in the 50s, 60s and early 70s where he brought unprecedented success to the club. More recently, the number 10 shirt has been worn by the Brazilian international Ze Roberto - but due to the threat of kidnapping to his family and insecurity he has returned to play in Europe. Santos' manager is former Brazil and Real Madrid manager Vanderlei Luxumbergo.

Anyway, Santos rode over America comprehensively beating them 4-1 last night. Our local team were diabolical. But, whereas I think British fans of a struggling Premiership team would show a bit of pluck and rally for their local team, Brazilians are very bad losers. British fans can't tolerate their players and manager not trying, but if the team DO compete and still lose, they are often given a rousing send off. And, although this is rare - it's true, if one team comprehensively outplays the other, British fans might sportingly clap the opposition at the end in the name of fair play. In the season when Arsenal went unbeaten this occurred a number of times.

Not in Brazil. Brazilians are fickle about success. The fact is, for a small north eastern town to have a team in the top division is already a fantastic achievement. My, how they partied a few months ago when they were promoted! But now that America are rooted to the bottom "holding the lantern" as the Brazilians say, nobody wants to give them the time of day. My students keep schtum on the subject of football now, like America RN are some king of unspeakable embarrassment. I've just come back from teaching a class and when I asked Thiago, an avid fan, if he bad been to the match he said this: "No way, teacher. It's a waste of money. I'm forgetting all about it. It's better to wait until next season when we are in Division 2".

And gate receipts for the club are way down despite the fact that some of the best players in the country are coming to Natal to play. When Santos scored their third goal yesterday, the two guys next to us got up and walked out. It was only the 47th minute. The team were boo-ed off at half time and at the end. Somebody near us threw a cup of coke at the goalkeeper. In Brazil the referee and linesmen are given armed escorts when they enter or exit the field of play. After yesterday, I felt the riot police should've been covering America's manager. Oh, for a bit of British stiff upper lip. Chin up, tally ho and all that.

Teaching English to a Premiership footballer. Have you ever wondered how the latest International signings who come over to play their football in England learn how to communicate with their English-speaking teammates? Answer - private English lessons. Chelsea's new Brazilian defender Alex (pictured above with Jose Mourinho) is being taught by my friend Julian Kenny. Actually, it seems the majority of people at Chelsea speak Portuguese and other languages so if Alex sticks at it for a few more weeks he'll be one of the most fluent English speakers there...

Julian, who is a very experienced English teacher and trainer and fluent Portuguese speaker, is staying with us in Natal for a few days and he came to watch the Santos game with me. One reason he came is Alex is a former Santos player and JK thought it'd be good to see his client's old team in action. Julian teaches English to Alex three times a week. (You may or not be interested to know that he teaches from the very popular English File Elementary coursebook). Alex, along with his wife and 3 year old daughter are living in a hotel while they sort themselves out in London. Alex is an Evangelical Christian and made it his priority to find a church, asking Julian for advice on where he could go. Julian has been filling me in on the inside story of life for a footballer earning a 6 figure-a-week salary. And here's a scoop: Julian says that Alex says that Mourinho is a very nice, caring man who is really fun to be around! That I find hard to believe.

Anyway, Julian is slowly getting his head around football lingo as he hasn't been a huge fan up to now. He even sent Steve and I a vocab list to help out with. I had to seriously think through the implications of indirectly helping a Chelsea player, especially one who knocked Arsenal out of the Champions League last season. But this Alex chap sounds like a nice guy, and he'll never know that I translated "boot it clear" as "score an own goal".

Tim Vickery, who reports on football in South America for the BBC, has written about Alex here.

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